Late last year I had the chance to visit Big Finish while they were recording two of their most recent audio dramas – Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter starring Georgia Tennant and Sean Biggerstaff, and Callan, starring Ben Miles and Frank Skinner.  I had a lovely time talking to the cast, the writers and creative team.  But I also managed to run into one of Big Finish‘s key members – David Richardson, Senior Producer extraordinaire.

If you drop by the Big Finish site you will see that David is the senior producer on all ranges as well as creative producer on a number of Big Finish ranges. Basically, he makes everything happen both organisationally – everything is where it needs to be when it needs to be – and creatively – the ideas and structure for new stories and new products lines developed and nurtured.  He’s been the driving force behind many Doctor Who spin-offs such as The War Doctor, The Tenth Doctor, UNIT, The Diary of River Song, The Churchill Years, Jago and Litefoot and Strax and Classic Doctors, as well as Shakespeare and Star Cops just to name a few. He is a member of the senior creative team that makes Big Finish successful.

I was able to sit down to chat with David about all things Big Finish including a bit of Shakespeare, Star Cops and of course Doctor Who.

BlogtorWho: 

Recently Big Finish has been developing their ranges and adding more different titles other than Doctor Who. Shakespeare, Originals, custom books, Star Cops, how is the audience responding to these new stories?

David:

Big Finish has largely become known for our Doctor Who audios, and it’s something that all of us who work at Big Finish absolutely love and are obsessed by, but it’s become clear that many of our listeners have broad tastes – and we are attracting new listeners with broad tastes. Our audience now is diverse enough that we can try other things, which in turn hopefully will bring more new people to Big Finish.

BlogtorWho:   

Audio has also moved on with digital downloads and devices in your pocket?

David:             

I think what really helps the company now is that in the 20 years we’ve been going, audio has now become ‘a thing’. When we started it was a niche media that maybe people thought of just as radio plays, but they didn’t necessarily think so much about full cast audio plays being sold on CD by an independent company. But now, television and radio are full of independent companies all making stuff for download, podcasts, original drama. They’ve all become ‘a thing’. We’ve got an app now that also brings us to a wider audience. So it’s not just that I think our audience has diversified. I think the way that the whole industry is viewed has changed what we can do.

BlogtorWho:   

Your app* has certainly had a big impact. You can download something to listen to on the train or while you’re on a run. It makes it all very accessible. Do you see audio as something that is going to grow further because of the creativity within it?

*Big Finish has a mobile app that allows users to download their purchases and listen on the go.

David:             

I’m sure the whole audio industry is going to grow, not just Big Finish but all the other audio companies out there. It’s a hugely exciting time for us. As you say, it does allow us to experiment, and it’s been lovely to step into things like Shakespeare. To then get a BBC Audio Award nomination for King Lear is just a wonderful validation of what we’re doing.

BlogtorWho:   

I’m thrilled that you are doing Shakespeare, but you have a lot of actors that have that background in their portfolio?

David:             

We do. We didn’t really consciously set out to do Shakespeare. I know Scott wanted to do Hamlet with Alex Vlahos. The reason I ended up doing King Lear was that it was a play I’d loved so much when I was at school. I learned the whole play and it has stayed with me all my life. It was just a dream of mine to make it on audio, and it was a dream to do it with David Warner. And as I said to David, I would love to do this play, it means a lot to me, but I only want to do it with you. And if he’d said no, then I would’ve let the project go by. But the fact that we were able to get David Warner made it something really special. Director Barnaby Edwards was able to bring in a wonderful cast around David, so it became this marvellous ensemble piece.

BlogtorWho:   

Big Finish is also spreading into North America and Australia. Is it becoming more accessible around the world because of your delivery mechanism?

David:             

I’d assume so. To be honest, I’m mainly based on the production side. One of the things that’s happened as the company has grown and more people have come to work for us, is that we’ve tended to specialise more and my area really is new productions. I basically plan and run the production schedule, so from the first idea through to final delivery, I’m across each production.

BlogtorWho:   

In terms of the Big Finish production methods, how do you come up with either an idea for a Doctor Who or anything else? Where does that come from?

David:             

It’s hard to say where any ideas come from. They just do. Quite often I will literally have an idea whilst I’m standing in the shower, your mind wanders. For instance, with Doom Coalition, the ideas that initially formed the whole box set, that basically came from myself and Ken Bentley just walking down the canal into work in the morning. I remember suddenly the idea of The Eleven popped into my head, and it was as simple as that. Just walking along and suddenly just thinking, what about a Time Lord who keeps all of his other personalities within his head? Suddenly when something that works comes up, it becomes a hugely exciting thing and the momentum grows. Then we brought in Matt Fitton and John Dorney and had a wealth of ideas. So it’s impossible to say where an idea comes from. If you’re lucky an idea does come and then it becomes like a snowball as other people get involved. It’s quite thrilling.

BlogtorWho:    

It was thrilling that you were able to create The Time War series because of Big Finish’s ability to do something creative with it. You can deliver more than what would be feasible on screen, and go with it for a longer period of time because it lasted forever did it not?

Big Finish - BBC Audio Awards - Absent Friends
Big Finish – BBC Audio Awards – Absent Friends

David:             

Yeah, I certainly have liked doing all of it so far. We’re just in the throes of doing the Eighth Doctor stuff. We only committed to doing one box set with the Eighth Doctor but it was only when we were working on the scripts, and we got inside the story, that actually we realised there was much more to it than just the one box set. Again, I’m a big fan of doing things organically and letting them grow. That is another example of being inside something and the world grows around you, and you get very excited and things start to fall together. We’ve got scripts coming in now for the second and third box sets, and it’s going to some really lovely places actually. I’m really excited. And it’s fun to see what other producers are doing in that sand pit – what Scott Handcock is doing with Gallifrey Time War, for example, which is fantastic. They all feed into each other.

BlogtorWho:   

We really loved the Time War so far.

David:             

Matt and John are just amazing writers to work with. What’s really nice is that we work so closely together so much of the time that it’s very easy. I think that ease of working, and the comfort comes out in the productions. I think people feel they’re just free to create and do lovely things, and I trust those pair to do brilliant stuff all the time. They’re amazing.

BlogtorWho:   

What would you like to do next? What would be something that you would love to do?

David:             

Gosh, that’s a question I’m asked all the time. We’ve done so many of the things I’d love to do next. Favourite things of mine that we haven’t done, I’d love the 70’s series Timeslip. It would be amazing to do that. It was a show that was far too short lived on television. It should have lasted much longer than it did. There are other mainstream BBC drama’s I’d love to do. I’d love to do something like Secret Army or Tenko. I don’t think it’s likely that we will get the chance to but they would be lovely things to work on. But we’re so busy doing the things we are doing I don’t think there’s space to take anything else on!

BlogtorWho:    Would you like a breather to figure out what the next things would be?

David:             

No, not necessarily. One thing I’m very good at is taking time off and taking breathers. I do take breaks from Big Finish and I’ve spent a lot of time on holiday in Wales, walking the hills and I think that is what energizers me. When I come back and I’m back on the production line again, I think if I didn’t do that then I would run out of steam.

BlogtorWho:   

Do you still love doing what you’re doing?

David:             

God, yeah. This is my 11th year working for Big Finish and I still love it, possibly more than I did when I came in. I think when I started I had a lot of insecurity about whether I could do it. I spent my first year thinking I wasn’t very good at it, but now I’m at the point where I feel more confident about what I’m doing. I feel like I can relax and just enjoy it really.
Nick Briggs has been amazingly supportive to me over the years and trusted me with all these amazing ranges. He offered me the job in the first place so I owe everything to him really!

BlogtorWho:   

It must also help having such a good team of people to work with?

David:             

It comes down to the people really, because you know we’re all friends at the company as well as colleagues, from the studio to the incredibly hard-working London production office to our freelancers. The actors who come in are friends as well too. There’s an amazing sense behind the scenes that we are a connected company and that’s just lovely to work with.

BlogtorWho:   

Is it easier to write and create stories for a series that you are passionate about or have a connection to?

David:             

Yeah. Taking Star Cops as an example, I was around at the BBC when it was being made. So, I have a connection from being in the studio and watching it in production and enjoying it on television. Once these things are in your DNA, it’s very natural to be able to work within that world. It’s not difficult. I can imagine it would be very difficult for somebody who didn’t know say Star Cops very well. To actually start from scratch and try and understand how it worked and what makes a good Star Cops episode. I must say that script editor Andrew Smith has been invaluable on that series – you should see his pitches for each season. They are so detailed – his vision is across the whole range.

BlogtorWho:   

Is that also true of Doctor Who stories?

David:             

When you know the DNA of what a series is it becomes very organic and very easy. I think it would be very hard for somebody who didn’t love Doctor Who, or watch Doctor Who, to write an audio Doctor Who episode. But the fact that most of our writers do and understand it means that it’s an easy process.

BlogtorWho:   

Would you like to maybe flip Doctor Who on its head by having people who don’t understand it contribute towards it?

David:             

I think the problem when people don’t understand it, there’s the potential for them breaking the mould so much that it becomes unrecognisable. You couldn’t write an episode of Doctor Who without watching a lot of episodes, I don’t think. Understanding what the point of the series is, how it works. Who the Doctor is. What his moral code is. There have been a few – not many – times in the past when the TV series, in my opinion, has got it wrong. I think back to the 70’s I can remember episodes where the Doctor grabbed a gun and started firing it. And I think that’s…

BlogtorWho:   

Crossing the line?

David:             

Yeah crossing the line in terms that the Doctor doesn’t use guns. There are interesting rules with Doctor Who. That’s just one example. For me, it’s just knowing the series. Loving it and then translating that into stories.

BlogtorWho:   

So, would you ever come up with something completely unique?

David:             

I would say that would probably happen, yes.

BlogtorWho:   

Good, that’s something to look forward to.

David:             

Yes, I think you’ll be seeing all sorts of things coming from Big Finish in the future. There are things happening which hopefully people will find interesting and new.

BlogtorWho:   

Yes, it’s almost like Big Finish has grown up a little bit.

David:             

Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say we weren’t ever grown up (not in public at least!), but I just think diversified is a better description.

BlogtorWho:   

Expanded it’s horizons perhaps?

David:             

But I’ve also heard people say, “Don’t do too many things. Don’t forget Doctor Who. Don’t forget where your core is.” We have such a great growing team. We’ve taken on people like Scott Handcock and James Goss. These amazing creative talents who’ve done their own things with Doctor Who and Torchwood, but there’s room to bring in other people to do interesting stuff.

BlogtorWho:   

Well, I think you’ve done a great job so far.

David:             

Oh, thank you.

BlogtorWho:   

And certainly, it’s been very enjoyable listening to everything.

David:  

That’s lovely to hear!

Don’t forget to drop by BigFinish.com.  Where you can get all of Audio Dramas discussed in this interview and many more.

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Susan Hewitt
Susan Hewitt is the Editor and Site Owner of Blogtor Who. She has loved all Doctor Who for over 5 decades now. Prisoner, Blake-7, Space-1999, Star Wars and Star Trek were also huge favourites. Her favourite Doctor is Tom Baker with Peter Capaldi following in a close second. However, David Tennant does rank as one of her favourite actors particular due to his brilliant work in theatre. She followed her heroes and became an Electrical Engineering in the semiconductor industry and worked for ATI, AMD and ARM. She is the CTO of Ryff when she isn't writing or editing Blogtor Who.

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